Published: January 31st 2008January 1st 2008
Top of Cerro Santa Lucia
Yep, those are the Andes in the background
Argentina´s long-distance buses are generally pretty comfortable, with cushy seats that recline pretty far back, which is important when you are taking an overnight bus and need to get some sleep. Overnight buses are the best because you save money by not paying for lodging and hopefully you can pass the time by sleeping (which I can do at the drop of the dime, although John usually needs drugs...like horse tranquilizers). Even for me, however, the bus ride from Mendoza, Argentina to Santiago, Chile was pretty horrendous. BORDER CROSSING IS NOT FUN. Especially in the middle of the night. We were awoken at 1:30 AM and had to get off the bus to wait in long line after long line getting various things stamped. For some reason all of this took 4 hours, so we did not get back on the bus until 5:30 AM. I was grumpy and exhausted and of course fell right back asleep, but John´s inability to sleep on buses actually rewarded him this time--he was treated to breathtaking views as our bus weaved along the narrow road that winded through the snowcapped Andean mountains.
Even though we were dead tired when we arrived in Santiago
at 7 AM, we knew we had to seize the day, since we had just about 24 hours to spend in Chile´s capital city. So we took a power nap at our hostel and then headed out to take a self-guided walking tour. Walking around, the city doesn´t seem all that different from a big city in the U.S. We were impressed by the presidential palace and the Plaza de Armas, but our favorite part of the Santiago was Cerro Santa Lucia. Right smack in the middle of the city is this 600m hill with a beautiful park (that reminded us of something out of Alice in Wonderland) with fountains, brick facades, and curving stairways leading up to the summit. Once at the top, you can really appreciate Santiago at its finest, with a 360 degree panorama of the metropolis surrounded by the massive Andes. It´s got to be one of the most geographically impressive settings for a city, anywhere.
That night we enjoyed eating some delicious middle eastern food in an upscale area that could have been Santa Barbara, if we didn´t know any better. Most of the travelers we´ve met down here aren´t that stoked on Santiago,
One of the coolest parts about Valpo, the walls and houses are covered with really colorful art
but there´s nothing really bad to say about the city except that it just really doesn´t feel that adventurous or exotic...if you ignore the gargantuous mountains encircling the city, you could be in just about any major city. Which is what made our next stop in Chile so cool...
When you are in Valparaíso, you know you are some place different
; it definitely defies stereotypical images of "South America." Its a sizeable town of almost 300,000 people built almost completely on the the side of hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean. As we wandered through the cobblestone streets in the hills of this incredibly colorful city, I kept thinking I was in some small town in Italy. We spent hours just stumbling happily through the mural- filled streets and alleyways of Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepciòn, two of the more well-known of the hill areas. We really felt like we were in Italy when we followed our noses to an amazing Italian restaurant with spectacular views of the ocean and the first good pizza we'd had yet in South America! [Quick rant: We had thought that Argentina´s large Italian influence would extend into their cuisine, but we were sadly mistaken,
Supposedly 1 million people come to Viña and Valpo for the New Year and all of them are in this pic
with the exception of their amazing helado (ice cream, just as good as Italian gelato). Every pasta we have eaten is bland and overcooked, and every pizza has chewy dough, not enough sauce (which is usually flavorless anyway), too much rubbery cheese and unfresh toppings like hard boiled eggs. Come on guys, it´s not that hard! Chile can do it!]
We loved the vibe in the residential hill areas of Valpo and spent most of our evenings there, but our day time hours were spent 5 km away in neighboring city Viña del Mar. Viña doesn't have as much character as colorful Valpo (it's another South Beach), but it does have an amazing stretch of beach. Valpo has an incredible street market with the best and cheapest produce you could imagine, including the BEST avocados (paltas). Ever. So we loaded up on food at the Mercado Cardonal, then headed over to the more expensive Viña to join the other million people on the beach.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention why we chose this time of year to go to Valpo/Viña. They have the biggest New Year's celebration in all of South America. Literally a million people from
Pictures don't do them justice
One of 10 firework platforms along the coast; if you look close, you can see a few more in the background.
all over come to watch their incredible fireworks display. And thanks to the beautiful weather we got blessed with, every single one of these million people were on the beach with us. Sometimes being in huge crowds is annoying, but sometimes it's kind of cool to be where everything is happening.
We were blown away by the fireworks. Definitely one of the coolest things we have seen since we've been down here. I had always thought that Disneyland had the best fireworks in the world, but I was wrong. First of all, the display itself was incredibly well done (definitely Disney calibur). But the scope
of these fireworks is unlike anything I have ever seen...unbelievable. There are 10 or so platforms set miles along the coast and at midnight, they all go off in sync, so that as far as you look in either direction there are beautiful colors bursting in the sky over the ocean. We had great front row spots on the waterfront and for an entire half-hour we could do nothing but ooh and ahh along with the other million spectators.
As the fireworks came to an end, the party was just getting started, and
seeing as how we had no place to sleep, why not join in the festivities. Since 6 person hostel dorm rooms were going for $100 per bed, we decided to stay out until our bus left at 8am the next morning. Party!!! Throw in a late night McDonald's sesh (with lines out the door) and you've got yourself a perfect night. Viva globalization.
There are more photos below